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Renewable energy: on the home front


Renewable energy: on the home front

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HISTORICALLY WE HAVE TURNED to technology and innovation to overcome challenges. Developing countries are normally the beneficiaries of innovation from the more developed countries in overcoming challenges, normally because developed nations have more resources to address challenges.

However, there are rare occasions where developing countries can lead in innovation. I believe we are on the verge of one of those unique moments, but we need vision and the will to seize it.

One of the main reasons I strongly believe Barbados can lead in renewable energy and that we have this distinct advantage to do so is because of our size and capabilities. We have very bright people who, once given the right motivation, can achieve anything and we are small enough that some of the challenges that will be overwhelming for the developed nations will be far more achievable for us.

First, we need to start with a basic principle: we cannot achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by just replacing oil with sun and wind. We need to be efficient in our energy consumption to reduce the demand. This is fundamental to our success and the catalyst of our opportunity to be innovators. Behaviour modification can achieve the greatest energy efficiency objectives better than any other method or product, especially in residential energy consumption.

But what if we could do this without having to get people to change? What if we can change the usage behaviours for you? What if we can do this at a national level all integrated to the national grid? The technology to do this is already available, but not implemented at a national level. Some of it is being used in Germany to facilitate self-consumption. Self-consumption systems allow individual home owners to control their home energy behaviours with their home power system. Your renewable energy system would be interfaced to a home energy management system. This system is then programmed to remove the decisions about use of energy in your home from you.

The system will make decisions based on time of day, energy storage levels, the availability of renewable energy sources and the amount of energy you are requesting to use. So, for example, if you wanted to wash clothes at 10 p.m. and the amount of energy you have stored in your batteries could not support the washing machine, it would not allow you to use the washing machine. However, I believe we can take it further and programme the system to determine the amount of credits you have with the utility from selling back your excess energy and if it is not enough to achieve your bill target, it would allow you to use the washing machine.

We can take it even further and integrate the system with a smart grid to become part of the utility demand management system. So using the same scenario with the washing machine at 10 p.m., if the demand management system determined that a peak is building and rather than trying to find extra generation or pulling from a storage unit to meet the demand, it can decide not to allow you to use the washing machine at that point to mitigate the peak.

I envision a Barbados where every home and business has its own energy management system integrated to their own power generation and integration into the national smart grid. This would be truly innovative. Achieveing 100 per cent renewable energy would become very easy, but achieving that level of integration comes at a price. It may also sound like it might be harder to achieve than going 100 per cent renewable energy without it. This is where the vision comes in.

Energy management sysetms are cheaper than solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and they can be easily phased in. So we can be integrating the control devices in every appliance sold using a standard or group of standards that would be nationally agreed? A small home could be put in the system to control one appliance far cheaper and easier than putting in a solar PV system. Then that system can be built on in stages over time at a cost the owner can afford.

In most instances, the whole house doesn’t need to be integrated, just the big energy consumers. Little by little the smallest home can have some form of energy control that can be integrated to the smart grid. By taking baby steps with the overall vision and target set, we can have a wide enough integrated energy management system that it becomes effective in controlling the energy demand in Barbados. It would overcome a lot of the peak generation and storage challenges that we will encounter as we move towards 100 per cent renewable energy. This would be true innovation and put us on the world map. As an engineer, this makes perfect sense to me but as an individual owning a small home, maybe not. Therefore, to incentivise the average homeowner to do this, I would propose some kind of peak demand management credits, based on the avoided cost of the energy generation.

I have only scratched the surface of what would be possible with this level of integration. The idea of distributed storage would become an instant reality. Each home would become an intelligent energy broker working on their own behaviour while the smart grid would become the national energy broker working in the national interest. They would be all working with a set of rules to make the various decisions based on being more energy efficient, which could be altered depending on the evolution and maturity of our energy environment.

Maybe this level of innovation is beyond this country, maybe this is just an enthusiastic engineer who believes in this country and its ability to punch above its weight. What do you think?

• Jerry Franklin is managing director of EnsSmart Inc. Franklin is an engineer, energy auditor, equipment tester, and energy solutions provider.